From an evolutionary perspective, Tim Flannery's book The Future Eaters is by far the best introduction to Australia.
Tim has a relaxed journalistic style backed up with sound scholarship, an enjoyment of new ideas and a character that relishes controversy. Which is just as well, as The Future Eaters managed to offend almost all the established interest groups; it would be fair to say, that the further these groups' views were from the truth, the more they were offended. Tim later developed The Future Eaters thesis in his The Eternal Frontier, an evolutionary account of the history of North America. (See my review of The Eternal Frontier.)
Australia, like the countries of North America, has an indigenous population, now a minority. The latest evidence indicates that the ancestors of the Australian Aborigines arrived in Australia 30,000 to 60,000 years ago. Theirs was a pre-literate and pre-scientific culture, so it would have gone through many transformations over its history, so many, and so deep, in fact that it would be futile to claim that they were the same people. The Evfit interest focuses on how the Australian Aborigines lived before European settlement, and how their physical health has deteriorated since that time.
When Weston Price visited Australia in the 1930s he was able to examine Aborigines who lived close to the traditional ways, others who had switched from a traditional diet during their lifetime and others who had been born into a family or group living wholly on Western foods. The Aborigines who lived traditionally were slim, healthy and had perfect teeth, even in old age. Their children who had moved into town had bad teeth, poor health and were overweight. Today, we would recognize diabetes and a risk of substance abuse. Their children, in turn, had these signs of ill health as well as having poorly formed lower third of their faces, crowded teeth and serious dental decay. One of the most persuasive photographs I have ever seen is one Dr Price took on Badu Island off the northern tip of Australia. It shows five brothers, standing in line with the older brothers tall and built like rugby players, with broad jaws and perfectly spaced teeth. The younger brothers are weedy, with pinched faces and crowded teeth. Dr Price tells us that a government store opened on Badu about 15 years earlier, selling refined flour, sugar and jams and that the people were happy to give up the hard work of fishing for the soft option of Western food.
The lesson is that a return by the Aborigines of today to the key aspects of the pre-contact lifestyle - not those that are non-key - could also return them to the near-perfect health of their grandparents. This is basically the Evfit way, and it is possible.
We have posted the following newspaper article here until we have seen the movie and can draw from it the Evfit lessons.
First contact: terrifying trek into the Space Age
30 May 2009
WHEN Yuwali first saw the truck, she thought it was a rock. A rock that moved. Turning to her young companions, the 17-year-old Aborigine, who had never seen a white man, said: "You know those big rocks that we always play on? The rock has come alive."
Terrified, Yuwali and her friends fled across the desert, too scared to sleep, lest the "monster" and the "devil men" inside it catch up and eat them.
Yuwali and her mob of desert-dwelling Martu were the last Aborigines to remain untouched by the modern world. All that changed, however, when patrol officers entered their country, in the Percival Lakes region of Western Australia, to clear it for a series of rocket tests in 1964. This historic episode and the subsequent "first contact" is now the subject of a documentary by the Sydney filmmakers Bentley Dean and Martin Butler.
"This story has to be the most extreme clash of cultures ever seen - the height of space technology meets a group of fully traditional hunter-gatherers with absolutely no idea of the outside world," Butler says. "It's a story that has to be told now because in a few years all those Aborigines adult enough to remember pre-contact life will be dead."
Contact, which will screen at the Sydney Film Festival, is told largely from Yuwali's perspective, and features surreal footage, shot by patrol officers, of her group emerging from the desert for the first time carrying little more than digging sticks.
"We were hungry," Yuwali says in the film. "But [the white men's] meat tasted like shit, so we spat it out and buried it in the sand."
Born at Yulpu rockhole in the heart of Percival Lakes, Yuwali spent her early life travelling with her family through the sand and spinifex, their movements dictated by seasonal patterns, the availability of food and the direction of the dreaming tracks.
Fear of strangers was deeply ingrained, owing not only to malpu, human-shaped spirits that were hairy and fanged, but also to "featherfeet", ritual killers from other tribes who travelled vast distances to exact revenge for real or perceived slights.
The patrol officers' sudden appearance, therefore, caused great fear. The first night with the patrol officers, "they tied us with rope around the ankles", Yuwali says, "to stop us running away".
The encounter ended the Martu's nomadic way of life, one they had led for at least 5000 years. Yuwali's group was taken to Jigalong, 200 kilometres south, where they were fed by missionaries and given money. (Thinking it was worthless, Yuwali buried it in a riverbed.)
She got work as a domestic helper on cattle stations, married twice and had four children. Now 62, she lives with two of her children at Parnngurr in the Pilbara. "At first we were sad to leave our country," she told the Herald. But, as she says in the film: "We've been swept up in our new lives. We were carried away by something we never knew before. We left our hearts back in our country."This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2009/05/29/1243456734729.html
Page updated 1 June 2009